A Post-Colonial Autoethnography of Transnational Adoption

A Post-Colonial Autoethnography of Transnational Adoption Abstract This paper brings together an autoethnographic account of adoption with post-colonial theoretical insights to propose a different approach to education programmes for prospective adoptive parents. By examining the adoption–migration nexus as one encounter within a broader history of global migrations, a post-colonial lens foregrounds the importance of race in the governance of (trans)national adoption and blurs the boundaries between forced and voluntary adoption. Preparing the adoptive parent community to understand the extent to which migration and adoption are implicated in racialising practices is critical if they are to support their non-white children in a context of rising nationalism and xenophobia. It is argued that social work education programmes must take up a more radical pedagogical agenda that questions normative understandings of class, race, ethnicity, gender and nation. This means developing an awareness that contemporary transnational adoption practices are entwined with the silent residues of an ‘illiberal’ past. Loving and caring familial relations, while crucially important for the emotional well-being of adoptees, cannot, by themselves, be a substitute for respect and belonging in the public sphere. A more politicised subjectivity of adoptive parents is called for. Transnational adoption, postcolonialism, autoethnography, racialisation Introduction ‘Social recognition or its absence can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being’ (Taylor, 1992, p. 25). Many of the ideas we hold about belonging are premised on having a definitive spatial or territorialised identity. Simply put, to belong is to have a position of some security in an existing economic order anchored in space, to feel part of a community (cultural belonging) and to identify with a political order (civic belonging) (Castles, 1998). Migration unsettles these long-held views. Inevitably, when culturally different people cross borders, diversity within nation-states increases. The arrival of different bodies also draws attention to existing diversity within the national space—diversity that may have been present all along but forgotten or rendered invisible through nation building (Castles, 1998). Migration is an emotive issue, not only for those on the move for whom the stakes may be life or death, but also for those who are sedentary, as demonstrated by recent international events such as Brexit, the Trump presidency and the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe. The transnational or intercountry adoption of children is rarely examined as part of the broader rubric of cross-national migratory flows. Instead, transnational adoption is largely studied by taking the individual adoptee or adoptive family as a focus of analysis, in isolation of the spatial and temporal forces that shape the adoption–migration nexus. This paper seeks to address this gap by drawing on an inter-disciplinary body of literature embracing migration and post-colonial studies to understand transnational adoption. The growing number of signatories to the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (HCCH, 1993), currently numbering ninety, makes transnational adoption an issue of international significance for countries in the Global North and in the Global South. Using a post-colonial lens, this paper locates the transnational adoptee and adoptive family in a broader historical context, in which population movements, inclusion, belonging and identity are framed by the global reach of projects of colonisation and nationalism. I question existing ideas about spatial mobility and social justice by offering an autoethnographic account of the adoption–migration nexus, from my positioning as an adoptive parent and Southeast Asian migrant. I show that a migrant background can bring rich, embodied knowledges to the task of supporting an adoptive child’s intercultural belonging, if accompanied by critical reflexivity. In relation to this point, I argue for adoption training programmes to recognise the limitations of taking an apolitical ‘folkloric’ approach to culture. Education programmes for adoptive parents, I suggest, are well placed to interrogate normative ideas about nation, culture and belonging. Much can be gained by seeing adoptees and adoptive parents as actors within a broader migration assemblage. Adoptive parents have an important role in enabling their adoptive children to obtain social recognition in an increasingly racialised, xenophobic context, but they require a different kind of training to empower them towards these ends. The paper is structured as follows. In the next section, I briefly outline how a post-colonial lens can enrich understandings of the adoption–migration nexus. A distinctive post-colonial methodology—autoethnography—is introduced and its contributions highlighted. The paper then proceeds to review of two broad sets of literature. First, the literature that conceptualises migration regimes to be part of a broader population-management project arising from, and responding to, the broader rubric of social transformations studied as ‘globalisation’. The second part of the literature review focuses on transnational adoption. I follow this up with the site of my study—Australia, a settler post-colonial society—beginning with a brief historical sketch of child migration and transcultural adoption. I then introduce my autoethnographic account (italicised) to lay out the tensions and conflicts faced by Australian adoptive parents. Here, I explore the ambivalences I confront as a non-white adoptive parent, with a migrant background. While we may not identify with hegemonic versions of national culture and identity, we are nonetheless drawn into discourses of humanitarianism, gendered and classed discourses that we help reproduce. The final part of the paper offers suggestions for changing education programmes for adoptive parents to address issues of exclusion, recognition and belonging before concluding with a summary of findings. Theorising global mobilities: a post-colonial framework Post-colonial studies explore the aftermath of (in)direct colonial rule on the material, symbolic and institutional worlds we inhabit. A wide range of topics tackled are under its umbrella—state building and cross-border population movements, the strategic mobilisation of nationalist imaginaries and the workings of the global political economy, to name a few (Appadurai, 1996; Slater, 1998). Post-colonial researchers are interested in how the colonial encounter has shaped the histories of places, their means of production, and the livelihoods and subjectivities of communities and individuals. Post-colonial studies of nationalism, many authored by feminist researchers, seek to tackle issues of belonging and affiliation using intersectionality to understand the race-, class- and gender-related dimensions of citizenship (Brah and Phoenix, 2004). Post-colonial researchers are found in almost every discipline; all are concerned with ‘disrupting’ dominant discourses that have their genesis in Euro-American imperial rule. These disruptions take myriad forms. Some are concerned with interrogating the textual representations of cultures and the power/knowledge regimes of academic disciplines (Raghuram and Madge, 2006). In other cases, disruptions are initiated by various projects of applied research, on nation building, lived citizenship, subjectivity and belonging (Hall and du Gay, 1996; Crath, 2012). In this paper, I use post-colonial theoretical tools to study and analyse the adoption–migration nexus, first, by pluralising relations between cross-border migrations, nationalist logics and ‘globalisation’. Post-colonial thinking helps to unsettle contemporary understandings of globalisation as new and unprecedented, by drawing attention to earlier expressions of migration-driven globalisation and its ambivalent links to projects of colonisation (Mains et al., 2013). This ambivalence is captured in how migrations are understood in contemporary national narratives and everyday understandings. Thus, while migrations from the ‘old’ to the ‘new worlds’ represented safe havens for European refugees escaping religious and political persecution, and opportunities for class mobility for oppressed groups such as the Irish, they were also implicated in the systematic annihilation of the lives, livelihoods and cultures of indigenous peoples (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999; Hage, 2016). These ambivalences shadow the contemporary experiences of adoptees, with implications for their belonging. Related to the theme of ambivalence is the second contribution of post-colonial theory to this paper—namely the reassertion and reconfiguration of colonial imaginaries in understanding inclusion and exclusion in both the Global South and North. Before proceeding with this argument, I acknowledge that these neologisms (Global South and North), which I use to capture economic disparities, are not geographic categories, nor should they be read as implying a uniformity in the either the Global North or South. Nonetheless, my point is that the presence of these imaginaries speaks to the need for a research imagination that recognises the entwinements between ‘then’ and ‘now’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’. For example, by turning the lens to neo-liberal economic policies in the Global South, post-colonial researchers have traced the repatriation of punitive practices to govern the conduct of ‘marginal’ citizens in the Global North—those deemed surplus to neo-liberalising economic projects, such as welfare recipients (Hindess, 2007). Post-colonial research has also uncovered the redeployment of the colonial imaginary in the work of civil society actors undertaking humanitarian work. Finally, post-colonial concepts such as ambivalence and hybridity have been usefully deployed towards disrupting the essentialised understandings of national identity that frame ideas about belonging and citizenship (Hall and du Gay, 1996). This line of work, by opening new ways of understanding the situated, ‘multiple’ and intersectional dimensions of belonging, has particular relevance for understanding identity formation for transnational adoptees. In summary, through a focus on ‘disrupting’ regimes of power and knowledge, post-colonial thinkers seek to reject the calculus of inclusion and exclusion perpetuated in the name of nationalism or globalisation. By using a multi-scalar approach that attends to spatial and temporal differences, research inspired by post-colonial researchers draws together the ‘here’ and ‘there’ and the ‘then’ and ‘now’. Accordingly, ‘choices’ framing transnational adoption from the Global South to the Global North cannot be understood without engagement with colonial imaginaries and practices, and the structural disadvantages they have inspired (Eng, 2003; Kim, 2010). Situating autoethnography as a post-colonial method In the post-colonial canon, autoethnography, with its emphasis on personal experience, is regarded as a potentially transgressive method to make visible the political, social and representational effects of (post-)colonial domination (Pratt, 1994). The power of autoethnographic writing rests on questioning binaries between the individual/social, body/mind, emotion/reason, lived experience/theory, the colonial past/post-colonial present (Gannon, 2006, p. 476). When informed by critical reflexivity, autoethnography establishes a space to interrogate established moral binaries found in studies of adoption. Autoethnography brings texture and nuance to issues commonly canvassed in transnational adoption literature such as the politics of mobility and the negotiations of belonging. There are many criticisms of whether or not autoethnography is able to capture the multiple, arguably contradictory, ever-changing elements of the ‘self’ as a subject. The truth status of autoethnographic accounts are called into question given the method’s necessary reliance on personal, highly subjective interpretations and memories of cultural, historical and socio-structural events and processes. In response, Pratt (1994, p. 28) reminds us that autoethnographic texts should not be regarded as more ‘authentic’ forms of self-representations; rather, they should be read as situated perspectives that capture the multiple and conflicting subjectivities of the author. These caveats apply to my partial and situated autoethnographic account of adoption. Like all autoethnographies, mine should not be read as a definitive description of ‘what really happened’, but as my embodied perspective. My account is assembled from ‘data’ sourced from an archive of official letters and e-mail correspondence from adoption authorities, extending over a period of some nine years. I have supplemented this with an analysis of a biographical narrative that I submitted as part of the official selection process for prospective parents. I have also called on records of largely e-mail correspondence with family and friends to (re)capture the textured emotions of this period. To this material, I add subjective experiences drawn from recent and ongoing interactions with adoptive families, including recent discussions that touch on migration, electoral politics, race and racism. Because autoethnography turns the research gaze onto the researcher, it opens the self to tensions, conflicts, emotions and vulnerabilities, often asked of research participants, but rarely experienced by researchers themselves. While such private stories can have self-healing, self-knowing effects for the author-researcher, where possible, they should be directed towards ethical conduct (Gannon, 2006, pp. 480–1)—an invitation I take up as I seek to unsettle received and misplaced ideas about humanitarianism in transnational adoption. Racialising migration: a population-management strategy? In her recent book entitled Us and Them, Anderson (2013) argues that ‘the migrant exemplifies the instability of relations between the nation, people and the state’ (p. 379). Mobility, she goes on to show, has long been seen as a force that threatens the social order. The Poor Laws in the UK that sought to fix the ‘vagrant’ in place are one case in point. Contemporary migration laws preventing mobility from the poorer regions of the world to the Global North mirror this rationality. Like Castles (1998), Anderson speaks back to neo-liberal accounts that celebrate the triumph of markets at national and international levels, pointing to social polarisation as driving xenophobia. Gross inequality is now regarded as vital to the ‘efficiency’ and ‘productivity’ of economic systems across the globe by political, business and bureaucratic elites. Andersen warns that the migration apparatus creates ‘communities of value’ in which the wealthy, productive and well-educated are welcomed, while punitive action is exercised onto the bodies of those deemed to lack value. She warns that, once institutionalised, othering practices deployed to govern the unskilled migrant other and stateless asylum seeker will be repatriated to govern other populations also deemed marginal to the neo-liberalising economic order (see also Hindess, 2007). Balibar (2015) locates three sets of institutional forces to explain the persistence of racial logics and practices in the contemporary moment. The first is nationalism that rests on notions of racial or cultural purity (see also Foucault, 2003). This functions as a kind of glue or cement to unite a collective. Second is the ordering of cultures and societies into civilisational hierarchies, differing in their intellectual, institutional and moral development (see also Mignolo, 2002; Hindess, 2007). This developmental view of humanity is a foundational premise of liberal political philosophy (Hindess, 2007). It should not be regarded simply as a view held by a xenophobic minority. The third set of forces supporting racialisation is the biopolitics of modernity. Biopolitics, according to French social theorist, Foucault (2003), involves a governing rationality of comparing, selecting and evaluating to secure the highest quality of human capital through the management of health, welfare and education services. Certain segments of the population will receive the full quotient of social goods to flourish and become high-value human capital. Those considered as ‘poor-quality’, ‘deviant’ or surplus to the needs of existing political, social and economic orders are less likely to receive these social goods. The biopolitical calculus is governed, either directly or indirectly, by considerations of class, race, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexuality (Foucault, 2003). How is the adoptee child placed discursively in this world in which civilisational hierarchies continue to shape ways of relating? In what follows, I examine the research literature to show that transnational adoption is implicated in population-management strategies that seek to deal with an ‘other’—a subject who falls outside of the normative order. Through this review, two long-standing tenets held by adoptive parent communities—humanitarianism and voluntarism—are unsettled. Governing transnational adoption Managing populations The use of adoption as a ‘solution’ to deal with the problem of population, uneven development and the inequities of capitalism has been the focus of a significant body of research, some authored by adoptee researchers keen to speak back to normative accounts of transnational adoption (Yngvesson, 2002, 2010; Hubinette, 2004; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015; Willing and Fronek, 2014). A powerful theme within this literature is state racism, which is seen as a key governing rationality in transnational adoption. For example, official support for transnational adoption from Korea enabled the USA to embellish its liberal democratic credentials, even as it engaged in the active suppression of racial equality in dealing with its African American citizens (Eng, 2003; Kim, 2010). In sending countries like Korea (and Vietnam), state-endorsed racialised and biopolitical logics regarded certain children—mixed-race, disabled, ‘illegitimate’—as contaminating the purity of the nation. This ‘problem’ was solved by their effective exile (Eng, 2003; Hubinette, 2004; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015). Taking as her focus Korean birth mothers—a group largely under-represented in the research literature on transnational adoption—Kim, H. (2015) identifies the existence of a pro-adoption apparatus or assemblage involving both state and non-state institutions, including legal instrumentalities, the Church, medical professionals as well as family, friends and neighbourhood communities (Kim, H. 2015). To manage the stigma associated with a child born out of wedlock, birth mothers were advised and pressured to relinquish their children by family, friends and close work colleagues. This sobering finding resonates with many studies inspired by a post-colonial sensibility about the complicity of in-groups in exercises of power. It raises all manner of ethical difficulties for adoptive parents, while creating unimaginable psychic stresses for adoptees (Ahluwalia, 2007). Kim’s, H. (2015) findings, echoed in other studies of adoption, lead her to conclude that transnational adoption functions as a population-management strategy. It operates by imposing a subjectivity of ‘unfit mother’ onto single, disadvantaged birth mothers. Facing social stigma and in the absence of welfare safety nets, birth mothers have few choices but to relinquish their children (see also Briggs, 2012; Fronek and Cuthbert, 2012; Kim, 2010; Yngvesson, 2010). Unsettling humanitarianism Transnational adoption has long been held up as a humanitarian practice to tackle uneven development and global inequality. Implicit in this discourse is a rationality that positions societies and states along a civilisational hierarchy whereby some are capable of caring for their children, while others have to be assisted by the Global North (Eng, 2003; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015; Yngvesson, 2010). This broader discourse shares a strong resonance with the theme of ‘failed states’ found in much development and international relations literature, in which the ‘West’ is positioned as a source of salvation, operationalised through various ‘capacity-building’ knowledges and ‘development aid’ (Slater, 1998; Hage, 2016). Critical adoption research unsettles these discursive practices, questioning the over-representation of vulnerable groups in transnational adoption circuits. Transnational adoption ‘thrives’ in contexts where mothers have few options but to leave their children in ‘orphanages’ to ensure they have access to food and medical care. It is a simplistic solution to the displacements created by economic and social upheavals, wars and insurgencies. Adoptee-driven research has made some powerful contributions by examining how race, class and gender-based injustices are implicated in adoption practices (Hubinette, 2004; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015). This trailblazing work foregrounds the need for studies of transnational adoption to embrace the entwined histories of colonialism, militarism and capitalism. The spatial entwinement of events and practices ‘here’ and ‘there’ demonstrate the extent to which adoption in the Global South continues to be shaped by events in the Global North. For example, Briggs (2012) has identified the political influence exercised by conservative Christian communities from the Global North in displacing reproductive justice from country-to-country development aid, thus denying disadvantaged women access to family-planning services. Interrogating voluntarism Parenthood in many societies is seen as an act of completion towards the realisation of a fully fledged adult citizen-subjectivity. Adoption emerges as a solution when the childless seek out this state of completion. In this calculus, the adoptive child is seen as having ‘embodied value’. She performs affective labour by completing her adoptive parents’ quest for an adult identity (Anagnost, cited in Eng, 2003). Given this background, researchers have questioned the persistence of the image of the adoptee as a ‘gift child’—a perspective held by many adoptive parents. Yngvesson (2002), for example, argues that gift talk is a language that ‘obscures the dependencies and inequalities that compel some of us to give birth to and give up our children while constituting others as free to adopt them’ (p. 230). She identifies the considerable institutional effort expended to create the subjects of ‘freely consenting birth mother’ and ‘adoptable child’. She cites as examples rules that forbid payment of any kind to the birth parents to maintain the fiction of free consent without inducement. The ‘adoptable child’ is produced by laws that initiate a ‘clean break’ from the child’s past, effectively erasing her pre-adoptive social and legal ties. Another layer of complexity is produced by ‘commodity thinking’—an ‘economy of desire’ wherein abandoned, relinquished, disabled and ‘special-needs’ children are seen as having ‘value’ from ‘socially conscious’ couples, the infertile, and gay and lesbian couples. These emotion-laden practices continue to reinforce gender-, class- and race-based disparities within supply circuits involving disadvantaged mothers, families and communities in the Global South. Logics and practices of racialisation Adoption researchers working from critical traditions have questioned the weight given to psychological theories of disrupted attachment that are widely used to understand the socio-psychological problems of adoptees. Instead, they argue for greater attention to the damage caused by experiences of racism and otherness (Hubinette, 2004; Ahluwalia, 2007; Willing and Fronek, 2014). Socialisation processes of ‘kinning’ initiated by adoptive families to resubjectify their adoptive children as biogenetic kin fail to protect children from stereotypes and exclusions that they encounter in public spaces (Yngvesson, 2010). Adoptive children are, instead, forced to confront the spatial logics of identity that locate and legitimise particular kinds of bodies in particular places (Eng, 2003; Hubinette, 2004; Ahluwalia, 2007; Kim, 2010). This raises the question of how adoptive parents deal with racial and cultural difference in their parenting. Willing and Fronek’s (2014) Australian study found that adoptive parents were reticent about interrogating the privileges of whiteness. Issues of race and racism were sidelined by a general preference to engage with the ‘folkloric’ dimensions of culture, such as music, dance, food and attending multicultural fiestas (see also Hubinette, 2004). De Graeve, 2015, writing from the Belgian context, also found that adoptive parents selectively introduce aspects of ‘culture’ into their children’s lives. Children were geographically and affectively decoupled from their birth country, and integrated through their families into the dominant norms of the receiving nation. Little attempt was made to foster links with migrant communities. Adoptive parents regarded immigrants as having cultural baggage, which, they argued, interfered with successful assimilation into the national fabric. De Graeve's, 2015 sample of adoptive parents understood racism as a problem of ‘cultural others’ wanting to maintain their ways and were keen to distance their adopted children from immigrants. Similarly to the Australian scenario, preparation work to alert parents to the entrenched structural racism their children could experience is either fleeting or absent. Nor were discussions encouraged on the limits of a monocultural socialisation. Given that transnational adoption practices have ‘a powerful capacity to reproduce tropes of race and racism in complex and unintended ways’ (Ahluwalia, 2007, p. 61), these gaps in education programmes for adoptive parents leave many without the awareness and knowledge to support their children to confront societal racisms. In the rest of the paper, I offer a brief sketch of transnational adoption practices in Australia, beginning with a historical account of forced adoption. This is followed by my autoethnographic account of adoption from my positioning as an adoptive parent. (Forced) adoption legacies in Australia From the adoption of indigenous children in frontier conflict, to the removal of newborns from unwed Australian mothers without informed consent, adoption captures the manner in which those outside of the raced, gendered, classed and heteronormative nationalist project have been subjected to discipline at the hands of state and religious authorities (Quartly et al., 2013). The treatment of British ‘child migrants’ is instructive of how adoption also functioned as an instrument and an effect of Empire. Child migrants were seen to constitute a bulwark against otherness, evident in this observation by the archbishop of the city of Perth in Western Australia at an event to ‘receive’ child migrants: ‘If we do not supply from our own stock, we are leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races’ (Child Migrants Trust (CMT), 2016). Children from impoverished or single-parent families were sent to the settler colonies of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Rhodesia. Their limited legal rights positioned them as ideal migrants: ‘They were seen to assimilate more easily, were more adaptable, had a long working life ahead and could be cheaply housed in dormitory style accommodation’ (National Archives of Australia, 2016, p. ). Many were subjected to appalling abuses (CMT, 2016). This troubled legacy raises many questions about the potential for forced mobility of adopted children today. At the same time, other vexed questions arise about social and spatial injustice. Who is free to move? Who is stuck in place? Access to global mobility is, after all, known to be stratifying. For the Australian anthropologist of race, Hage (2016), ‘a colonial spatial politics’ regulates [who] can and cannot circulate’ (p. 42). In other words, who is allowed to have access to the ‘good life’ and who is not? In Australia’s neo-liberal migratory regime, the typical adoptee child is not considered ‘high-value’, as she requires significant investments by a nation-state before she can become a fully functioning, productive citizen. An autoethnographic account of adoption Making sense of biopolitical disinvestments Adoption, like migration, is a waiting game. Our application to adopt took eight years. By this time, I had changed from a respectful applicant aware of the importance of a thorough vetting process, anxious to obey The Hague Convention to the letter, to a disillusioned ‘service user’. From my positioning as a first-generation migrant from Asia, I regarded the wait as an example of a spatial politics in which the forces of race, ethnicity, skin colour and wealth determine who has the right to cross borders. We encountered a hollowed-out bureaucracy in the throes of ‘restructuring’. This meant long periods of not having an allocated caseworker. Managerial staff came across as discouraging: the sorry legacies of forced adoption, silently shading institutional memory. At times, we felt that the professionals conducting the assessment themselves appeared ill at ease with our cultural differences, including our recollections of being ‘out of place’, as the children of non-English-speaking migrants and the racism we experienced growing up in Australia. At the same time, values gleaned from migrant life experiences went unchallenged, which, in retrospect, could have done with a shake-up. For example, to secure a sense of belonging, I had over-invested in making myself ‘valued human capital’ by cultivating an achievement-oriented disposition. This background did not equip me well to deal with a special-needs child. In my haste for my child to have access to an enriched learning environment, I expected too much as I tried to roll back serious disadvantages experienced in his early childhood. Creating a loving and safe home life with access to good education and health care to equip one’s child for the future—these are not straightforward goals (see Bailey, 2015). There are many turns in the application process that shape an adoptive parent’s subjectivity, such as chance encounters with other histories of adoption. An eighty-five-year-old seated next to me on a flight recounted how she became an adoptive parent. Unable to conceive, her gynaecologist, who also attended at a Catholic home for unmarried mothers, facilitated an adoption through which she received a baby boy, now an adult—a father and loving son with no interest in pursuing his origins. Respectful of her efforts in providing a loving environment for her son, I was nonetheless mortified at how simple the process once was in extinguishing the rights of the birth mother. But how different were the processes that I was involved in? Rightly or wrongly, I had long identified transnational adoption to be an altruistic act—a sense of responsibility borne partly out of frustrations: frustrations at the failures of governments to prioritise redistribution, reproductive justice, housing, health and education for their most disadvantaged citizens. These frustrations are also strategically mobilised by governments who look to the migrant diaspora. Whether through remittances, tourism or other contributions towards ‘capacity building’, migrants who ‘exit’ their birth countries in search of opportunities elsewhere are being courted and reminded to ‘give back’ to their home countries (Pellerin and Mullings, 2013). Giving back assumes a new urgency, as the ‘one size fits all’ development paradigm, embraced by many governments, sometimes at the behest of bilateral and multilateral donors, fails to live up to expectations. National governments and Western donors are not averse to calling on Orientalist ideas to justify their minimalist social policies. For example, arguments against state-based systems of redistribution and social protection are often couched in the language of ‘Asian values’, which installs the family as the ‘natural’ unit of care (Li, 2015). Ideas reminiscent of social Darwinism that date back to the colonial era continue to have currency. Extreme inequality is often attributed to ‘backwardness’. Poor educational performance is similarly attributed to the personal deficits of children and their families, rather than acknowledging the role of schooling in class reproduction. Biopolitical disinvestments are not, of course, limited to ‘the third world’. There is ample policy evidence that liberal democracies like Australia also disinvest, for example, in their indigenous populations and in the care and education of children with physical and intellectual disabilities. Many adoptive parents are touched by sorrow and frustration at ‘third world poverty’ in our child’s country of origin, but blind to the ‘third world’ conditions endured by many indigenous Australians. Unsettling the discursive fictions of ‘suitable’ parents and ‘adoptable children’ Establishing parental suitability is a two-fold process requiring assessment by state authorities in both receiving and sending countries. In Australia, the process requires prospective adopters to nominate a country from which they would like to adopt fairly early on. Each country determines its own rules to ascertain parental suitability. These function as a proxy for national sovereignty and are non-negotiable. They can present hurdles to inter-faith, cross-cultural, inter-racial couples, as we found. One country recognised Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the only ‘legitimate’ religions for prospective adoptive parents. Another declared that applications would not be accepted from couples where the wife was older than the husband (‘culturally unacceptable’). Some countries actively discouraged secularism and required ‘a demonstrated commitment to Christian beliefs and values through regular church attendance and participation in their church community’. Fostering confidence involves demonstrating that children have been given up voluntarily or, if abandoned, that sufficient effort has been made to contact their biological family. For example, in our child’s case, radio advertisements were funded calling for his biological family to come forward to claim him. It is doubtful how effective these were in a city of twelve million people. Making a child adoptable also involves crafting a narrative about the child, based on the information needs of the ‘first world’. Children’s homes must have resources to engage the services of social workers to prepare the requisite reports that transmit the child’s all-important developmental history for overseas adoption authorities and prospective parents. The style of assessment reports and content must convey impressions of professionalism and competence on the parts of the authorities of sending countries. To make a child ‘adoptable’ is to develop a blended narrative with hints of a child’s complex needs along with ample descriptions of positive attributes, such as the achievement of developmental milestones and likeable personal qualities. These complexities are not always understood by prospective adoptive parents, and some ‘see’ duplicity. Having decided that we would be ‘open’ to any problems also present in our own genealogical tree, we accepted the first child we were offered. The ‘placement’ journey after such a long wait brought up mixed emotions—relief and happiness, anxiety and apprehension. Our first unsettling experience was the ‘handover’ process—a formal religious ceremony scheduled at our arrival at the children’s home and attended by the representatives of two charitable institutions: the Church and a society patron. Our request to draw out the ‘handover’ over a week or two to enable our child to get know us gradually was politely dismissed by social workers who reasoned that, at eighteen months, he was young enough not to fear going off with complete strangers. We briefly met our child’s main carer in the children’s nursery, who brushed away her tears as she handed him to us. After Mass and some refreshments during which we were given a neatly typed protocol of our child’s routine and daily diet, and a small package (baby formula, bottles and two sets of pyjamas, some nappies), a taxi was summoned and we were bundled off politely but firmly. We were bombarded by salvationist messages: ‘He is a lucky boy’, we were told over and over by the staff at the children’s home, hotel and airport staff and immigration officers as they thumbed through the reams of paperwork certifying that his adoption was ‘legal’. Fissures soon appeared in the narratives that constructed our son’s adoptability. The typed protocol of dietary preferences was not much use. He needed occupational therapy to learn to feed. Over the months and years that have followed, a range of developmental needs have emerged requiring sustained professional intervention throughout his childhood. After the mandatory post-placement assessment of two home visits, a final report and the legal transfer of custodianship to us, there was no further communication from the state adoption authority. The state’s exit was both a relief and discomfiting. Adoptive parent support groups play an important role in mediating the multiple transitions from application to becoming adoptive parents. Staffed by volunteers who give of their time generously, the group provides advice to those awaiting adoption. They organise cultural events such as dance lessons and camps for adoptive children. At the same time, group members embody the contradictions of a multicultural society. Some are acutely ambivalent towards difference, juxtaposing their unflinching love and devotion to their non-white adoptive children with active support for explicitly anti-immigration political agendas. Some openly endorse populist politicians known for their racially divisive rhetoric. The literature confirms that the norms of adoptive parenthood pivot around making ‘a clean break’. For many parents, this starts with a wholesale name change for their child—a name that no one will stumble over or mispronounce, a name more suited their child’s ‘new’ life. Our decision to retain our child’s name was met with puzzlement. We explained that we wanted to preserve the name his biological mother had selected for him. Our own audibly different names that we spell out in communicative transactions are daily reminders of negotiating our otherness. But it gave us confidence to keep our child’s name. Subtle practices of erasure such as name changes are not the whole picture, though. Many adoptive parents make demonstrable commitments to maintain links to their child’s source country. Financial resources are found to take children ‘home’; group members engage in fundraising activities in response to natural disasters and to support various children’s homes. ‘Care packages’ are regularly despatched to deliver books, toys, clothes, toiletries and linen. Financial support is given to biological families, once contact is established. As children grow, some question and resist mundane attempts to erase their past. They reclaim their agency by seeking affiliations with their home countries, their ‘culture’ and their racialised identities. There are persistent questions about birth families, and the motivations of their adoptive parents to adopt them. There are inevitable emotional maelstroms. For adoptive families, another journey begins: to find out more and to support their children in this journey. Imagining an alternative education for prospective adoptive parents The contribution of this paper has been to highlight the utility of a post-colonial approach to understanding the migration–adoption nexus. Throughout, the argument is made of the need to understand the spatial and temporal reach of racialising logics that hold adoption to be a humanitarian endeavour, exercised by a ‘developed’ Global North to ‘save’ the disadvantaged children of the Global South. Racialisation is also implicitly invoked as a management strategy by post-colonial states to deal with their ‘surplus’ populations who do not qualify for biopolitical investments. The paper makes a case for a stronger engagement between adoption and migration scholarship. This is vital if a post-colonial awareness is to be brought into social work training programmes to equip and empower adoptive parents to engage critically with the politics of belonging and nationalism in all of its complexity. Yet many in the adoptive parent community are uncomfortable about exploring the power conferred by a normative whiteness (Willing and Fronek, 2014). Understanding the cultural politics of migration would enable them to offer more support to their children. In outlining how a post-colonial sensibility could further education and selection processes, I argue for including historical insights about transcultural and transnational adoption in training programmes. An active engagement with the histories of adoption, whether of indigenous children, British child migrants or the children of single mothers, stands to question salvationist and humanitarian discourses. Illiberal, authoritarian strands in global stories of adoption will necessarily unfold differently in different national settings. But these stories should not be relegated to a ‘backward’ past that has now been displaced by an ‘enlightened’ present. Opening up discussions of how such illiberal practices exercise their hold today can increase awareness and agency to resist seemingly intractable structures of inequality. Presently, these complex histories of adoption, including the thought-provoking findings of adoptee researchers, remain subjugated in the imaginations of the broader adoptive parent community. A second contribution of a post-colonial framework is in increasing awareness of the racialised underpinnings informing contemporary nationalism and belonging, and the ramifications for adoptive families. An explicit anti-racist agenda in training programmes that delves into the cultural politics of nation building and migration can assist prospective adoptive parents to de-essentialise culture and race and to see migration not as an action by a marginal cultural other, but as part of a rich history of human mobility. I would argue that this is an urgent project given the pervasive belief that a ‘reverse colonisation’ in now underway, with the Global North ‘threatened’ by ‘waves’ of people from the Global South. Very little serious information is provided in adoption training programmes about the ambivalent histories of globalised flows of migrants and, in the case of Australia, the colonial spatial politics surrounding settlement. Informed and politically engaged adoptive parents are an important resource to speak back to populist-inspired animosity towards racialised difference. A final area in adoption training that merits attention is the manner in which kinship is dealt with. In most Australian jurisdictions, application processes require couples to complete a biography and here they are encouraged to engage in ‘narratives of self-discovery’ using knowledge of their own families to prepare them for the parenting through adoption (Sales, 2012). The biographical material is then used as the basis for assessing for parental suitability through a series of individual and joint interviews. These biographies are precious opportunities to exercise reflexivity and to delve into the multiple meanings and emotionality of transnational adoption, including the many losses it entails. But loss is touched on fleetingly in adoption training programmes. An unfortunate consequence is that affective boundaries can emerge in which the losses of relinquishing mothers are minimised; their rights to be seen as persons with feelings removed; the structural injustices they experience, erased. Some adoptive children will also experience existential loss at some time during their journey to adulthood. Feelings of loss, injustice and disempowerment cannot simply be rationalised away, as appropriate ‘exchanges’ for their ‘first world’ opportunities. Adoptive parents have an important role in acknowledging these losses with dignity and empathy. Concluding comments This paper’s contribution has been to introduce a post-colonial approach to understanding the transnational adoption–migration nexus as a basis from which to propose alternative education programmes for prospective adoptive parents. By offering an autoethnographic account inspired by post-colonial studies, the paper highlights the ambivalent logics that sustain transnational adoption. These include racialising logics that maintain the discursive associations between transnational adoption and humanitarianism, without giving due regard to adoption’s historical uses as a population-management strategy. Logics of racialisation are also inherent in normative understandings of belonging and national identity. An additional contribution is offered in complicating the discursive fictions of ‘voluntary adoption’, ‘suitable parents’ and ‘adoptable children’, which render invisible the intersectional forces of gender, class and race inequities in transnational adoption. Many of these difficult topics—the racialisation of migration, belonging and national identity, the ethical conundrums posed by classed and gendered adoption practices—remain largely unexplored in education and training programmes for prospective adoptive parents. The work of adoptee researchers has gone a long way to show that there are no easy answers about what constitutes a child’s best interests. Transnational adoption represents a complex ethical terrain for all adoptive parents, including those of us with diasporic links that bind us affectively and politically to the global ‘South’. A starting point is recognising the entwined histories of countries that send off their children and others that take them off. These entangled histories of power place special demands on adoptive parents to support their children in their lifelong journeys to stake out a sense of belonging. If parents are to embody a socially just cosmopolitanism, they will need access to different kinds of training programmes. Conflict of interest statement. None declared. Acknowledgements I acknowledge all the parties who have been involved in my journey as an adoptive parent. References Ahluwalia P. ( 2007 ) ‘ Negotiating identity: Postcolonial ethics and transnational adoption ’, Journal of Global Ethics , 3 ( 1 ), pp. 55 – 67 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Anagnost A. ( 2000 ) ‘ Scenes of misrecognition: Maternal citizenship in the age of transnational adoption ’, Positions , 8 ( 2 ), pp. 389 – 421 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Anderson B. ( 2013 ) Us and Them: The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control , Oxford , Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Appadurai A. (ed.) ( 1996 ) ‘Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy’, in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization , Minneapolis, MN , University of Minnesota Press . Bailey S. ( 2015 ) ‘ Transnational adoption challenges: Through the eyes of Eastern European youth ’, Adoption Quarterly , 18 ( 2 ), pp. 85 – 107 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Balibar E. ( 2015 ) ‘War, racism and nationalism’, interview by C. Petitjean, 15 November, available online at https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1559-etienne-balibar-war-racism-and-nationalism (accessed on 19 July, 2017). Brah A. , Phoenix A. ( 2004 ) ‘ Ain’t I a woman? Revisiting intersectionality ’, Journal of Women’s International Studies , 5 ( 3 ), pp. 75 – 86 . Briggs L. ( 2012 ) Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption , Durham, NC , Duke University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Castles S. ( 1998 ) ‘ Globalization and migration: Some pressing contradictions ’, International Social Science Journal , 50 ( 156 ), pp. 179 – 86 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS CMT (Child Migrants Trust) ( 2016 ) ‘Child migration history’, available online at http://www.childmigrantstrust.com/our-work/child-migration-history/ (accessed on 24 July, 2017). Crath R. ( 2012 ) ‘ Belonging as a mode of interpretive in-between ’, British Journal of Social Work , 42 ( 1 ), pp. 42 – 57 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS De Graeve K. ( 2015 ) ‘ They have our culture’: Negotiating migration in Belgian–Ethiopian transnational adoption ’, Ethnos , 80 ( 1 ), pp. 71 – 90 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Eng D. ( 2003 ) ‘ Transnational adoption and queer diasporas ’, Social Text , 21 ( 30 ), pp. 1 – 37 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Foucault M. ( 2003 ) Society Must Be Defended , London , Penguin Press . Fronek P. , Cuthbert D. ( 2012 ) ‘ The future of inter-country adoption: A paradigm shift for this century ’, International Journal of Social Welfare , 21 ( 2 ), pp. 215 – 24 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Gannon S. ( 2006 ) ‘ The (im)possibilities of writing the self-writing: French poststructural theory and autoethnography ’, Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies , 6 ( 4 ), pp. 474 – 95 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hage G. ( 2016 ) ‘ Etat de siege: A dying domesticating colonialism? ’, American Ethnologist , 43 ( 1 ), pp. 38 – 49 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hall S. , du Gay P. ( 1996 ) Questions of Cultural Identity , London , Sage . HCCH . (1993) Adoption Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, available online at https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/publications1/?dtid=42&cid=69 (accessed on 16 August, 2017). Hindess B. ( 2007 ) ‘ The past is another culture ’, International Political Sociology , 1 ( 4 ), pp. 325 – 38 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hubinette T. ( 2004 ) ‘ Adopted Koreans and the development of identity in the “third space” ’, Adoption & Fostering , 28 ( 1 ), pp. 16 – 24 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kim E. ( 2010 ) Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging , Durham, NC , Duke University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kim H. ( 2015 ) ‘ The biopolitics of transnational adoption in South Korea ’, Body and Society , 21 ( 1 ), pp. 58 – 89 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kim J. ( 2015 ) ‘ The ending is not the ending at all ’, East Asia Cultures Critique , 23 ( 4 ), pp. 807 – 35 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Li T. ( 2015 ) ‘ Asian futures, old and new ’, Asia Colloquia Papers , 4 ( 1 ), pp. 1 – 14 , York Centre for Asian Research, available online at http://ycar.apps01.yorku.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Li_ACP.pdf (accessed on 19 July, 2017). Mains S. P. , Gilmartin M. , Cullen D. , Mohammad R. , Tolia-Kelly D. P. , Raghuram P. , Winders J. ( 2013 ) ‘ Postcolonial migrations ’, Social & Cultural Geography , 14 ( 2 ), pp. 131 – 44 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mignolo W. ( 2002 ). ‘ The geopolitics of knowledge and the colonial difference ’, The South Atlantic Quarterly , 100 ( 1 ), pp. 57 – 96 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pellerin H. , Mullings B. ( 2013 ) ‘ The “diaspora option”, migration and the changing political economy of development ’, Review of International Political Economy , 20 ( 1 ), pp. 89 – 120 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pratt M. L. ( 1994 ) ‘Transculturation and autoethnography’, in Barker F. , Hulme P. , Iversen M. (eds), Colonial Discourse/Postcolonial Theory , Manchester , Manchester University Press . Quartly M. , Swain S. , Cuthbert D. ( 2013 ) The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption , Melbourne , Monash University Publishing . Raghuram P. , Madge C. ( 2006 ) ‘ Towards a method for postcolonial development geography ’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography , 27 ( 3 ), pp. 270 – 88 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sales S. ( 2012 ) Adoption, Family and the Paradox of Origin: A Foucauldian History , Basingstoke , Palgrave McMillan . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Slater D. ( 1998 ) ‘ Post-colonial questions for global times ’, Review of International Political Economy , 5 ( 4 Winter ), pp. 647 – 78 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Taylor C. ( 1992 ) ‘The politics of recognition’, in Gutmann A. (ed.), Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition , Princeton, NJ , Princeton University Press , pp. 25 – 73 . Tuhiwai-Smith L. ( 1999 ) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples , London; New York , Zed Books . Willing I. , Fronek P. ( 2014 ) ‘ Constructing identities and issues of race in transnational adoption: The experiences of adoptive parents ’, British Journal of Social Work , 44 ( 5 ), pp. 1129 – 46 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Yngvesson B. ( 2002 ) ‘ Placing the gift child in transnational adoption ’, Law and Society Review , 36 ( 2 ), pp. 227 – 56 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Yngvesson B. ( 2010 ) Belonging in an Adopted World: Race, Identity, and Transnational Adoption , Chicago, IL , University of Chicago Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

A Post-Colonial Autoethnography of Transnational Adoption

Loading next page...
 
/lp/ou_press/a-post-colonial-autoethnography-of-transnational-adoption-MMt880olid
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
ISSN
0045-3102
eISSN
1468-263X
D.O.I.
10.1093/bjsw/bcy011
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Abstract This paper brings together an autoethnographic account of adoption with post-colonial theoretical insights to propose a different approach to education programmes for prospective adoptive parents. By examining the adoption–migration nexus as one encounter within a broader history of global migrations, a post-colonial lens foregrounds the importance of race in the governance of (trans)national adoption and blurs the boundaries between forced and voluntary adoption. Preparing the adoptive parent community to understand the extent to which migration and adoption are implicated in racialising practices is critical if they are to support their non-white children in a context of rising nationalism and xenophobia. It is argued that social work education programmes must take up a more radical pedagogical agenda that questions normative understandings of class, race, ethnicity, gender and nation. This means developing an awareness that contemporary transnational adoption practices are entwined with the silent residues of an ‘illiberal’ past. Loving and caring familial relations, while crucially important for the emotional well-being of adoptees, cannot, by themselves, be a substitute for respect and belonging in the public sphere. A more politicised subjectivity of adoptive parents is called for. Transnational adoption, postcolonialism, autoethnography, racialisation Introduction ‘Social recognition or its absence can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being’ (Taylor, 1992, p. 25). Many of the ideas we hold about belonging are premised on having a definitive spatial or territorialised identity. Simply put, to belong is to have a position of some security in an existing economic order anchored in space, to feel part of a community (cultural belonging) and to identify with a political order (civic belonging) (Castles, 1998). Migration unsettles these long-held views. Inevitably, when culturally different people cross borders, diversity within nation-states increases. The arrival of different bodies also draws attention to existing diversity within the national space—diversity that may have been present all along but forgotten or rendered invisible through nation building (Castles, 1998). Migration is an emotive issue, not only for those on the move for whom the stakes may be life or death, but also for those who are sedentary, as demonstrated by recent international events such as Brexit, the Trump presidency and the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe. The transnational or intercountry adoption of children is rarely examined as part of the broader rubric of cross-national migratory flows. Instead, transnational adoption is largely studied by taking the individual adoptee or adoptive family as a focus of analysis, in isolation of the spatial and temporal forces that shape the adoption–migration nexus. This paper seeks to address this gap by drawing on an inter-disciplinary body of literature embracing migration and post-colonial studies to understand transnational adoption. The growing number of signatories to the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (HCCH, 1993), currently numbering ninety, makes transnational adoption an issue of international significance for countries in the Global North and in the Global South. Using a post-colonial lens, this paper locates the transnational adoptee and adoptive family in a broader historical context, in which population movements, inclusion, belonging and identity are framed by the global reach of projects of colonisation and nationalism. I question existing ideas about spatial mobility and social justice by offering an autoethnographic account of the adoption–migration nexus, from my positioning as an adoptive parent and Southeast Asian migrant. I show that a migrant background can bring rich, embodied knowledges to the task of supporting an adoptive child’s intercultural belonging, if accompanied by critical reflexivity. In relation to this point, I argue for adoption training programmes to recognise the limitations of taking an apolitical ‘folkloric’ approach to culture. Education programmes for adoptive parents, I suggest, are well placed to interrogate normative ideas about nation, culture and belonging. Much can be gained by seeing adoptees and adoptive parents as actors within a broader migration assemblage. Adoptive parents have an important role in enabling their adoptive children to obtain social recognition in an increasingly racialised, xenophobic context, but they require a different kind of training to empower them towards these ends. The paper is structured as follows. In the next section, I briefly outline how a post-colonial lens can enrich understandings of the adoption–migration nexus. A distinctive post-colonial methodology—autoethnography—is introduced and its contributions highlighted. The paper then proceeds to review of two broad sets of literature. First, the literature that conceptualises migration regimes to be part of a broader population-management project arising from, and responding to, the broader rubric of social transformations studied as ‘globalisation’. The second part of the literature review focuses on transnational adoption. I follow this up with the site of my study—Australia, a settler post-colonial society—beginning with a brief historical sketch of child migration and transcultural adoption. I then introduce my autoethnographic account (italicised) to lay out the tensions and conflicts faced by Australian adoptive parents. Here, I explore the ambivalences I confront as a non-white adoptive parent, with a migrant background. While we may not identify with hegemonic versions of national culture and identity, we are nonetheless drawn into discourses of humanitarianism, gendered and classed discourses that we help reproduce. The final part of the paper offers suggestions for changing education programmes for adoptive parents to address issues of exclusion, recognition and belonging before concluding with a summary of findings. Theorising global mobilities: a post-colonial framework Post-colonial studies explore the aftermath of (in)direct colonial rule on the material, symbolic and institutional worlds we inhabit. A wide range of topics tackled are under its umbrella—state building and cross-border population movements, the strategic mobilisation of nationalist imaginaries and the workings of the global political economy, to name a few (Appadurai, 1996; Slater, 1998). Post-colonial researchers are interested in how the colonial encounter has shaped the histories of places, their means of production, and the livelihoods and subjectivities of communities and individuals. Post-colonial studies of nationalism, many authored by feminist researchers, seek to tackle issues of belonging and affiliation using intersectionality to understand the race-, class- and gender-related dimensions of citizenship (Brah and Phoenix, 2004). Post-colonial researchers are found in almost every discipline; all are concerned with ‘disrupting’ dominant discourses that have their genesis in Euro-American imperial rule. These disruptions take myriad forms. Some are concerned with interrogating the textual representations of cultures and the power/knowledge regimes of academic disciplines (Raghuram and Madge, 2006). In other cases, disruptions are initiated by various projects of applied research, on nation building, lived citizenship, subjectivity and belonging (Hall and du Gay, 1996; Crath, 2012). In this paper, I use post-colonial theoretical tools to study and analyse the adoption–migration nexus, first, by pluralising relations between cross-border migrations, nationalist logics and ‘globalisation’. Post-colonial thinking helps to unsettle contemporary understandings of globalisation as new and unprecedented, by drawing attention to earlier expressions of migration-driven globalisation and its ambivalent links to projects of colonisation (Mains et al., 2013). This ambivalence is captured in how migrations are understood in contemporary national narratives and everyday understandings. Thus, while migrations from the ‘old’ to the ‘new worlds’ represented safe havens for European refugees escaping religious and political persecution, and opportunities for class mobility for oppressed groups such as the Irish, they were also implicated in the systematic annihilation of the lives, livelihoods and cultures of indigenous peoples (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999; Hage, 2016). These ambivalences shadow the contemporary experiences of adoptees, with implications for their belonging. Related to the theme of ambivalence is the second contribution of post-colonial theory to this paper—namely the reassertion and reconfiguration of colonial imaginaries in understanding inclusion and exclusion in both the Global South and North. Before proceeding with this argument, I acknowledge that these neologisms (Global South and North), which I use to capture economic disparities, are not geographic categories, nor should they be read as implying a uniformity in the either the Global North or South. Nonetheless, my point is that the presence of these imaginaries speaks to the need for a research imagination that recognises the entwinements between ‘then’ and ‘now’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’. For example, by turning the lens to neo-liberal economic policies in the Global South, post-colonial researchers have traced the repatriation of punitive practices to govern the conduct of ‘marginal’ citizens in the Global North—those deemed surplus to neo-liberalising economic projects, such as welfare recipients (Hindess, 2007). Post-colonial research has also uncovered the redeployment of the colonial imaginary in the work of civil society actors undertaking humanitarian work. Finally, post-colonial concepts such as ambivalence and hybridity have been usefully deployed towards disrupting the essentialised understandings of national identity that frame ideas about belonging and citizenship (Hall and du Gay, 1996). This line of work, by opening new ways of understanding the situated, ‘multiple’ and intersectional dimensions of belonging, has particular relevance for understanding identity formation for transnational adoptees. In summary, through a focus on ‘disrupting’ regimes of power and knowledge, post-colonial thinkers seek to reject the calculus of inclusion and exclusion perpetuated in the name of nationalism or globalisation. By using a multi-scalar approach that attends to spatial and temporal differences, research inspired by post-colonial researchers draws together the ‘here’ and ‘there’ and the ‘then’ and ‘now’. Accordingly, ‘choices’ framing transnational adoption from the Global South to the Global North cannot be understood without engagement with colonial imaginaries and practices, and the structural disadvantages they have inspired (Eng, 2003; Kim, 2010). Situating autoethnography as a post-colonial method In the post-colonial canon, autoethnography, with its emphasis on personal experience, is regarded as a potentially transgressive method to make visible the political, social and representational effects of (post-)colonial domination (Pratt, 1994). The power of autoethnographic writing rests on questioning binaries between the individual/social, body/mind, emotion/reason, lived experience/theory, the colonial past/post-colonial present (Gannon, 2006, p. 476). When informed by critical reflexivity, autoethnography establishes a space to interrogate established moral binaries found in studies of adoption. Autoethnography brings texture and nuance to issues commonly canvassed in transnational adoption literature such as the politics of mobility and the negotiations of belonging. There are many criticisms of whether or not autoethnography is able to capture the multiple, arguably contradictory, ever-changing elements of the ‘self’ as a subject. The truth status of autoethnographic accounts are called into question given the method’s necessary reliance on personal, highly subjective interpretations and memories of cultural, historical and socio-structural events and processes. In response, Pratt (1994, p. 28) reminds us that autoethnographic texts should not be regarded as more ‘authentic’ forms of self-representations; rather, they should be read as situated perspectives that capture the multiple and conflicting subjectivities of the author. These caveats apply to my partial and situated autoethnographic account of adoption. Like all autoethnographies, mine should not be read as a definitive description of ‘what really happened’, but as my embodied perspective. My account is assembled from ‘data’ sourced from an archive of official letters and e-mail correspondence from adoption authorities, extending over a period of some nine years. I have supplemented this with an analysis of a biographical narrative that I submitted as part of the official selection process for prospective parents. I have also called on records of largely e-mail correspondence with family and friends to (re)capture the textured emotions of this period. To this material, I add subjective experiences drawn from recent and ongoing interactions with adoptive families, including recent discussions that touch on migration, electoral politics, race and racism. Because autoethnography turns the research gaze onto the researcher, it opens the self to tensions, conflicts, emotions and vulnerabilities, often asked of research participants, but rarely experienced by researchers themselves. While such private stories can have self-healing, self-knowing effects for the author-researcher, where possible, they should be directed towards ethical conduct (Gannon, 2006, pp. 480–1)—an invitation I take up as I seek to unsettle received and misplaced ideas about humanitarianism in transnational adoption. Racialising migration: a population-management strategy? In her recent book entitled Us and Them, Anderson (2013) argues that ‘the migrant exemplifies the instability of relations between the nation, people and the state’ (p. 379). Mobility, she goes on to show, has long been seen as a force that threatens the social order. The Poor Laws in the UK that sought to fix the ‘vagrant’ in place are one case in point. Contemporary migration laws preventing mobility from the poorer regions of the world to the Global North mirror this rationality. Like Castles (1998), Anderson speaks back to neo-liberal accounts that celebrate the triumph of markets at national and international levels, pointing to social polarisation as driving xenophobia. Gross inequality is now regarded as vital to the ‘efficiency’ and ‘productivity’ of economic systems across the globe by political, business and bureaucratic elites. Andersen warns that the migration apparatus creates ‘communities of value’ in which the wealthy, productive and well-educated are welcomed, while punitive action is exercised onto the bodies of those deemed to lack value. She warns that, once institutionalised, othering practices deployed to govern the unskilled migrant other and stateless asylum seeker will be repatriated to govern other populations also deemed marginal to the neo-liberalising economic order (see also Hindess, 2007). Balibar (2015) locates three sets of institutional forces to explain the persistence of racial logics and practices in the contemporary moment. The first is nationalism that rests on notions of racial or cultural purity (see also Foucault, 2003). This functions as a kind of glue or cement to unite a collective. Second is the ordering of cultures and societies into civilisational hierarchies, differing in their intellectual, institutional and moral development (see also Mignolo, 2002; Hindess, 2007). This developmental view of humanity is a foundational premise of liberal political philosophy (Hindess, 2007). It should not be regarded simply as a view held by a xenophobic minority. The third set of forces supporting racialisation is the biopolitics of modernity. Biopolitics, according to French social theorist, Foucault (2003), involves a governing rationality of comparing, selecting and evaluating to secure the highest quality of human capital through the management of health, welfare and education services. Certain segments of the population will receive the full quotient of social goods to flourish and become high-value human capital. Those considered as ‘poor-quality’, ‘deviant’ or surplus to the needs of existing political, social and economic orders are less likely to receive these social goods. The biopolitical calculus is governed, either directly or indirectly, by considerations of class, race, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexuality (Foucault, 2003). How is the adoptee child placed discursively in this world in which civilisational hierarchies continue to shape ways of relating? In what follows, I examine the research literature to show that transnational adoption is implicated in population-management strategies that seek to deal with an ‘other’—a subject who falls outside of the normative order. Through this review, two long-standing tenets held by adoptive parent communities—humanitarianism and voluntarism—are unsettled. Governing transnational adoption Managing populations The use of adoption as a ‘solution’ to deal with the problem of population, uneven development and the inequities of capitalism has been the focus of a significant body of research, some authored by adoptee researchers keen to speak back to normative accounts of transnational adoption (Yngvesson, 2002, 2010; Hubinette, 2004; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015; Willing and Fronek, 2014). A powerful theme within this literature is state racism, which is seen as a key governing rationality in transnational adoption. For example, official support for transnational adoption from Korea enabled the USA to embellish its liberal democratic credentials, even as it engaged in the active suppression of racial equality in dealing with its African American citizens (Eng, 2003; Kim, 2010). In sending countries like Korea (and Vietnam), state-endorsed racialised and biopolitical logics regarded certain children—mixed-race, disabled, ‘illegitimate’—as contaminating the purity of the nation. This ‘problem’ was solved by their effective exile (Eng, 2003; Hubinette, 2004; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015). Taking as her focus Korean birth mothers—a group largely under-represented in the research literature on transnational adoption—Kim, H. (2015) identifies the existence of a pro-adoption apparatus or assemblage involving both state and non-state institutions, including legal instrumentalities, the Church, medical professionals as well as family, friends and neighbourhood communities (Kim, H. 2015). To manage the stigma associated with a child born out of wedlock, birth mothers were advised and pressured to relinquish their children by family, friends and close work colleagues. This sobering finding resonates with many studies inspired by a post-colonial sensibility about the complicity of in-groups in exercises of power. It raises all manner of ethical difficulties for adoptive parents, while creating unimaginable psychic stresses for adoptees (Ahluwalia, 2007). Kim’s, H. (2015) findings, echoed in other studies of adoption, lead her to conclude that transnational adoption functions as a population-management strategy. It operates by imposing a subjectivity of ‘unfit mother’ onto single, disadvantaged birth mothers. Facing social stigma and in the absence of welfare safety nets, birth mothers have few choices but to relinquish their children (see also Briggs, 2012; Fronek and Cuthbert, 2012; Kim, 2010; Yngvesson, 2010). Unsettling humanitarianism Transnational adoption has long been held up as a humanitarian practice to tackle uneven development and global inequality. Implicit in this discourse is a rationality that positions societies and states along a civilisational hierarchy whereby some are capable of caring for their children, while others have to be assisted by the Global North (Eng, 2003; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015; Yngvesson, 2010). This broader discourse shares a strong resonance with the theme of ‘failed states’ found in much development and international relations literature, in which the ‘West’ is positioned as a source of salvation, operationalised through various ‘capacity-building’ knowledges and ‘development aid’ (Slater, 1998; Hage, 2016). Critical adoption research unsettles these discursive practices, questioning the over-representation of vulnerable groups in transnational adoption circuits. Transnational adoption ‘thrives’ in contexts where mothers have few options but to leave their children in ‘orphanages’ to ensure they have access to food and medical care. It is a simplistic solution to the displacements created by economic and social upheavals, wars and insurgencies. Adoptee-driven research has made some powerful contributions by examining how race, class and gender-based injustices are implicated in adoption practices (Hubinette, 2004; Kim, 2010; Kim, J., 2015). This trailblazing work foregrounds the need for studies of transnational adoption to embrace the entwined histories of colonialism, militarism and capitalism. The spatial entwinement of events and practices ‘here’ and ‘there’ demonstrate the extent to which adoption in the Global South continues to be shaped by events in the Global North. For example, Briggs (2012) has identified the political influence exercised by conservative Christian communities from the Global North in displacing reproductive justice from country-to-country development aid, thus denying disadvantaged women access to family-planning services. Interrogating voluntarism Parenthood in many societies is seen as an act of completion towards the realisation of a fully fledged adult citizen-subjectivity. Adoption emerges as a solution when the childless seek out this state of completion. In this calculus, the adoptive child is seen as having ‘embodied value’. She performs affective labour by completing her adoptive parents’ quest for an adult identity (Anagnost, cited in Eng, 2003). Given this background, researchers have questioned the persistence of the image of the adoptee as a ‘gift child’—a perspective held by many adoptive parents. Yngvesson (2002), for example, argues that gift talk is a language that ‘obscures the dependencies and inequalities that compel some of us to give birth to and give up our children while constituting others as free to adopt them’ (p. 230). She identifies the considerable institutional effort expended to create the subjects of ‘freely consenting birth mother’ and ‘adoptable child’. She cites as examples rules that forbid payment of any kind to the birth parents to maintain the fiction of free consent without inducement. The ‘adoptable child’ is produced by laws that initiate a ‘clean break’ from the child’s past, effectively erasing her pre-adoptive social and legal ties. Another layer of complexity is produced by ‘commodity thinking’—an ‘economy of desire’ wherein abandoned, relinquished, disabled and ‘special-needs’ children are seen as having ‘value’ from ‘socially conscious’ couples, the infertile, and gay and lesbian couples. These emotion-laden practices continue to reinforce gender-, class- and race-based disparities within supply circuits involving disadvantaged mothers, families and communities in the Global South. Logics and practices of racialisation Adoption researchers working from critical traditions have questioned the weight given to psychological theories of disrupted attachment that are widely used to understand the socio-psychological problems of adoptees. Instead, they argue for greater attention to the damage caused by experiences of racism and otherness (Hubinette, 2004; Ahluwalia, 2007; Willing and Fronek, 2014). Socialisation processes of ‘kinning’ initiated by adoptive families to resubjectify their adoptive children as biogenetic kin fail to protect children from stereotypes and exclusions that they encounter in public spaces (Yngvesson, 2010). Adoptive children are, instead, forced to confront the spatial logics of identity that locate and legitimise particular kinds of bodies in particular places (Eng, 2003; Hubinette, 2004; Ahluwalia, 2007; Kim, 2010). This raises the question of how adoptive parents deal with racial and cultural difference in their parenting. Willing and Fronek’s (2014) Australian study found that adoptive parents were reticent about interrogating the privileges of whiteness. Issues of race and racism were sidelined by a general preference to engage with the ‘folkloric’ dimensions of culture, such as music, dance, food and attending multicultural fiestas (see also Hubinette, 2004). De Graeve, 2015, writing from the Belgian context, also found that adoptive parents selectively introduce aspects of ‘culture’ into their children’s lives. Children were geographically and affectively decoupled from their birth country, and integrated through their families into the dominant norms of the receiving nation. Little attempt was made to foster links with migrant communities. Adoptive parents regarded immigrants as having cultural baggage, which, they argued, interfered with successful assimilation into the national fabric. De Graeve's, 2015 sample of adoptive parents understood racism as a problem of ‘cultural others’ wanting to maintain their ways and were keen to distance their adopted children from immigrants. Similarly to the Australian scenario, preparation work to alert parents to the entrenched structural racism their children could experience is either fleeting or absent. Nor were discussions encouraged on the limits of a monocultural socialisation. Given that transnational adoption practices have ‘a powerful capacity to reproduce tropes of race and racism in complex and unintended ways’ (Ahluwalia, 2007, p. 61), these gaps in education programmes for adoptive parents leave many without the awareness and knowledge to support their children to confront societal racisms. In the rest of the paper, I offer a brief sketch of transnational adoption practices in Australia, beginning with a historical account of forced adoption. This is followed by my autoethnographic account of adoption from my positioning as an adoptive parent. (Forced) adoption legacies in Australia From the adoption of indigenous children in frontier conflict, to the removal of newborns from unwed Australian mothers without informed consent, adoption captures the manner in which those outside of the raced, gendered, classed and heteronormative nationalist project have been subjected to discipline at the hands of state and religious authorities (Quartly et al., 2013). The treatment of British ‘child migrants’ is instructive of how adoption also functioned as an instrument and an effect of Empire. Child migrants were seen to constitute a bulwark against otherness, evident in this observation by the archbishop of the city of Perth in Western Australia at an event to ‘receive’ child migrants: ‘If we do not supply from our own stock, we are leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races’ (Child Migrants Trust (CMT), 2016). Children from impoverished or single-parent families were sent to the settler colonies of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Rhodesia. Their limited legal rights positioned them as ideal migrants: ‘They were seen to assimilate more easily, were more adaptable, had a long working life ahead and could be cheaply housed in dormitory style accommodation’ (National Archives of Australia, 2016, p. ). Many were subjected to appalling abuses (CMT, 2016). This troubled legacy raises many questions about the potential for forced mobility of adopted children today. At the same time, other vexed questions arise about social and spatial injustice. Who is free to move? Who is stuck in place? Access to global mobility is, after all, known to be stratifying. For the Australian anthropologist of race, Hage (2016), ‘a colonial spatial politics’ regulates [who] can and cannot circulate’ (p. 42). In other words, who is allowed to have access to the ‘good life’ and who is not? In Australia’s neo-liberal migratory regime, the typical adoptee child is not considered ‘high-value’, as she requires significant investments by a nation-state before she can become a fully functioning, productive citizen. An autoethnographic account of adoption Making sense of biopolitical disinvestments Adoption, like migration, is a waiting game. Our application to adopt took eight years. By this time, I had changed from a respectful applicant aware of the importance of a thorough vetting process, anxious to obey The Hague Convention to the letter, to a disillusioned ‘service user’. From my positioning as a first-generation migrant from Asia, I regarded the wait as an example of a spatial politics in which the forces of race, ethnicity, skin colour and wealth determine who has the right to cross borders. We encountered a hollowed-out bureaucracy in the throes of ‘restructuring’. This meant long periods of not having an allocated caseworker. Managerial staff came across as discouraging: the sorry legacies of forced adoption, silently shading institutional memory. At times, we felt that the professionals conducting the assessment themselves appeared ill at ease with our cultural differences, including our recollections of being ‘out of place’, as the children of non-English-speaking migrants and the racism we experienced growing up in Australia. At the same time, values gleaned from migrant life experiences went unchallenged, which, in retrospect, could have done with a shake-up. For example, to secure a sense of belonging, I had over-invested in making myself ‘valued human capital’ by cultivating an achievement-oriented disposition. This background did not equip me well to deal with a special-needs child. In my haste for my child to have access to an enriched learning environment, I expected too much as I tried to roll back serious disadvantages experienced in his early childhood. Creating a loving and safe home life with access to good education and health care to equip one’s child for the future—these are not straightforward goals (see Bailey, 2015). There are many turns in the application process that shape an adoptive parent’s subjectivity, such as chance encounters with other histories of adoption. An eighty-five-year-old seated next to me on a flight recounted how she became an adoptive parent. Unable to conceive, her gynaecologist, who also attended at a Catholic home for unmarried mothers, facilitated an adoption through which she received a baby boy, now an adult—a father and loving son with no interest in pursuing his origins. Respectful of her efforts in providing a loving environment for her son, I was nonetheless mortified at how simple the process once was in extinguishing the rights of the birth mother. But how different were the processes that I was involved in? Rightly or wrongly, I had long identified transnational adoption to be an altruistic act—a sense of responsibility borne partly out of frustrations: frustrations at the failures of governments to prioritise redistribution, reproductive justice, housing, health and education for their most disadvantaged citizens. These frustrations are also strategically mobilised by governments who look to the migrant diaspora. Whether through remittances, tourism or other contributions towards ‘capacity building’, migrants who ‘exit’ their birth countries in search of opportunities elsewhere are being courted and reminded to ‘give back’ to their home countries (Pellerin and Mullings, 2013). Giving back assumes a new urgency, as the ‘one size fits all’ development paradigm, embraced by many governments, sometimes at the behest of bilateral and multilateral donors, fails to live up to expectations. National governments and Western donors are not averse to calling on Orientalist ideas to justify their minimalist social policies. For example, arguments against state-based systems of redistribution and social protection are often couched in the language of ‘Asian values’, which installs the family as the ‘natural’ unit of care (Li, 2015). Ideas reminiscent of social Darwinism that date back to the colonial era continue to have currency. Extreme inequality is often attributed to ‘backwardness’. Poor educational performance is similarly attributed to the personal deficits of children and their families, rather than acknowledging the role of schooling in class reproduction. Biopolitical disinvestments are not, of course, limited to ‘the third world’. There is ample policy evidence that liberal democracies like Australia also disinvest, for example, in their indigenous populations and in the care and education of children with physical and intellectual disabilities. Many adoptive parents are touched by sorrow and frustration at ‘third world poverty’ in our child’s country of origin, but blind to the ‘third world’ conditions endured by many indigenous Australians. Unsettling the discursive fictions of ‘suitable’ parents and ‘adoptable children’ Establishing parental suitability is a two-fold process requiring assessment by state authorities in both receiving and sending countries. In Australia, the process requires prospective adopters to nominate a country from which they would like to adopt fairly early on. Each country determines its own rules to ascertain parental suitability. These function as a proxy for national sovereignty and are non-negotiable. They can present hurdles to inter-faith, cross-cultural, inter-racial couples, as we found. One country recognised Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the only ‘legitimate’ religions for prospective adoptive parents. Another declared that applications would not be accepted from couples where the wife was older than the husband (‘culturally unacceptable’). Some countries actively discouraged secularism and required ‘a demonstrated commitment to Christian beliefs and values through regular church attendance and participation in their church community’. Fostering confidence involves demonstrating that children have been given up voluntarily or, if abandoned, that sufficient effort has been made to contact their biological family. For example, in our child’s case, radio advertisements were funded calling for his biological family to come forward to claim him. It is doubtful how effective these were in a city of twelve million people. Making a child adoptable also involves crafting a narrative about the child, based on the information needs of the ‘first world’. Children’s homes must have resources to engage the services of social workers to prepare the requisite reports that transmit the child’s all-important developmental history for overseas adoption authorities and prospective parents. The style of assessment reports and content must convey impressions of professionalism and competence on the parts of the authorities of sending countries. To make a child ‘adoptable’ is to develop a blended narrative with hints of a child’s complex needs along with ample descriptions of positive attributes, such as the achievement of developmental milestones and likeable personal qualities. These complexities are not always understood by prospective adoptive parents, and some ‘see’ duplicity. Having decided that we would be ‘open’ to any problems also present in our own genealogical tree, we accepted the first child we were offered. The ‘placement’ journey after such a long wait brought up mixed emotions—relief and happiness, anxiety and apprehension. Our first unsettling experience was the ‘handover’ process—a formal religious ceremony scheduled at our arrival at the children’s home and attended by the representatives of two charitable institutions: the Church and a society patron. Our request to draw out the ‘handover’ over a week or two to enable our child to get know us gradually was politely dismissed by social workers who reasoned that, at eighteen months, he was young enough not to fear going off with complete strangers. We briefly met our child’s main carer in the children’s nursery, who brushed away her tears as she handed him to us. After Mass and some refreshments during which we were given a neatly typed protocol of our child’s routine and daily diet, and a small package (baby formula, bottles and two sets of pyjamas, some nappies), a taxi was summoned and we were bundled off politely but firmly. We were bombarded by salvationist messages: ‘He is a lucky boy’, we were told over and over by the staff at the children’s home, hotel and airport staff and immigration officers as they thumbed through the reams of paperwork certifying that his adoption was ‘legal’. Fissures soon appeared in the narratives that constructed our son’s adoptability. The typed protocol of dietary preferences was not much use. He needed occupational therapy to learn to feed. Over the months and years that have followed, a range of developmental needs have emerged requiring sustained professional intervention throughout his childhood. After the mandatory post-placement assessment of two home visits, a final report and the legal transfer of custodianship to us, there was no further communication from the state adoption authority. The state’s exit was both a relief and discomfiting. Adoptive parent support groups play an important role in mediating the multiple transitions from application to becoming adoptive parents. Staffed by volunteers who give of their time generously, the group provides advice to those awaiting adoption. They organise cultural events such as dance lessons and camps for adoptive children. At the same time, group members embody the contradictions of a multicultural society. Some are acutely ambivalent towards difference, juxtaposing their unflinching love and devotion to their non-white adoptive children with active support for explicitly anti-immigration political agendas. Some openly endorse populist politicians known for their racially divisive rhetoric. The literature confirms that the norms of adoptive parenthood pivot around making ‘a clean break’. For many parents, this starts with a wholesale name change for their child—a name that no one will stumble over or mispronounce, a name more suited their child’s ‘new’ life. Our decision to retain our child’s name was met with puzzlement. We explained that we wanted to preserve the name his biological mother had selected for him. Our own audibly different names that we spell out in communicative transactions are daily reminders of negotiating our otherness. But it gave us confidence to keep our child’s name. Subtle practices of erasure such as name changes are not the whole picture, though. Many adoptive parents make demonstrable commitments to maintain links to their child’s source country. Financial resources are found to take children ‘home’; group members engage in fundraising activities in response to natural disasters and to support various children’s homes. ‘Care packages’ are regularly despatched to deliver books, toys, clothes, toiletries and linen. Financial support is given to biological families, once contact is established. As children grow, some question and resist mundane attempts to erase their past. They reclaim their agency by seeking affiliations with their home countries, their ‘culture’ and their racialised identities. There are persistent questions about birth families, and the motivations of their adoptive parents to adopt them. There are inevitable emotional maelstroms. For adoptive families, another journey begins: to find out more and to support their children in this journey. Imagining an alternative education for prospective adoptive parents The contribution of this paper has been to highlight the utility of a post-colonial approach to understanding the migration–adoption nexus. Throughout, the argument is made of the need to understand the spatial and temporal reach of racialising logics that hold adoption to be a humanitarian endeavour, exercised by a ‘developed’ Global North to ‘save’ the disadvantaged children of the Global South. Racialisation is also implicitly invoked as a management strategy by post-colonial states to deal with their ‘surplus’ populations who do not qualify for biopolitical investments. The paper makes a case for a stronger engagement between adoption and migration scholarship. This is vital if a post-colonial awareness is to be brought into social work training programmes to equip and empower adoptive parents to engage critically with the politics of belonging and nationalism in all of its complexity. Yet many in the adoptive parent community are uncomfortable about exploring the power conferred by a normative whiteness (Willing and Fronek, 2014). Understanding the cultural politics of migration would enable them to offer more support to their children. In outlining how a post-colonial sensibility could further education and selection processes, I argue for including historical insights about transcultural and transnational adoption in training programmes. An active engagement with the histories of adoption, whether of indigenous children, British child migrants or the children of single mothers, stands to question salvationist and humanitarian discourses. Illiberal, authoritarian strands in global stories of adoption will necessarily unfold differently in different national settings. But these stories should not be relegated to a ‘backward’ past that has now been displaced by an ‘enlightened’ present. Opening up discussions of how such illiberal practices exercise their hold today can increase awareness and agency to resist seemingly intractable structures of inequality. Presently, these complex histories of adoption, including the thought-provoking findings of adoptee researchers, remain subjugated in the imaginations of the broader adoptive parent community. A second contribution of a post-colonial framework is in increasing awareness of the racialised underpinnings informing contemporary nationalism and belonging, and the ramifications for adoptive families. An explicit anti-racist agenda in training programmes that delves into the cultural politics of nation building and migration can assist prospective adoptive parents to de-essentialise culture and race and to see migration not as an action by a marginal cultural other, but as part of a rich history of human mobility. I would argue that this is an urgent project given the pervasive belief that a ‘reverse colonisation’ in now underway, with the Global North ‘threatened’ by ‘waves’ of people from the Global South. Very little serious information is provided in adoption training programmes about the ambivalent histories of globalised flows of migrants and, in the case of Australia, the colonial spatial politics surrounding settlement. Informed and politically engaged adoptive parents are an important resource to speak back to populist-inspired animosity towards racialised difference. A final area in adoption training that merits attention is the manner in which kinship is dealt with. In most Australian jurisdictions, application processes require couples to complete a biography and here they are encouraged to engage in ‘narratives of self-discovery’ using knowledge of their own families to prepare them for the parenting through adoption (Sales, 2012). The biographical material is then used as the basis for assessing for parental suitability through a series of individual and joint interviews. These biographies are precious opportunities to exercise reflexivity and to delve into the multiple meanings and emotionality of transnational adoption, including the many losses it entails. But loss is touched on fleetingly in adoption training programmes. An unfortunate consequence is that affective boundaries can emerge in which the losses of relinquishing mothers are minimised; their rights to be seen as persons with feelings removed; the structural injustices they experience, erased. Some adoptive children will also experience existential loss at some time during their journey to adulthood. Feelings of loss, injustice and disempowerment cannot simply be rationalised away, as appropriate ‘exchanges’ for their ‘first world’ opportunities. Adoptive parents have an important role in acknowledging these losses with dignity and empathy. Concluding comments This paper’s contribution has been to introduce a post-colonial approach to understanding the transnational adoption–migration nexus as a basis from which to propose alternative education programmes for prospective adoptive parents. By offering an autoethnographic account inspired by post-colonial studies, the paper highlights the ambivalent logics that sustain transnational adoption. These include racialising logics that maintain the discursive associations between transnational adoption and humanitarianism, without giving due regard to adoption’s historical uses as a population-management strategy. Logics of racialisation are also inherent in normative understandings of belonging and national identity. An additional contribution is offered in complicating the discursive fictions of ‘voluntary adoption’, ‘suitable parents’ and ‘adoptable children’, which render invisible the intersectional forces of gender, class and race inequities in transnational adoption. Many of these difficult topics—the racialisation of migration, belonging and national identity, the ethical conundrums posed by classed and gendered adoption practices—remain largely unexplored in education and training programmes for prospective adoptive parents. The work of adoptee researchers has gone a long way to show that there are no easy answers about what constitutes a child’s best interests. Transnational adoption represents a complex ethical terrain for all adoptive parents, including those of us with diasporic links that bind us affectively and politically to the global ‘South’. A starting point is recognising the entwined histories of countries that send off their children and others that take them off. These entangled histories of power place special demands on adoptive parents to support their children in their lifelong journeys to stake out a sense of belonging. If parents are to embody a socially just cosmopolitanism, they will need access to different kinds of training programmes. Conflict of interest statement. None declared. Acknowledgements I acknowledge all the parties who have been involved in my journey as an adoptive parent. References Ahluwalia P. ( 2007 ) ‘ Negotiating identity: Postcolonial ethics and transnational adoption ’, Journal of Global Ethics , 3 ( 1 ), pp. 55 – 67 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Anagnost A. ( 2000 ) ‘ Scenes of misrecognition: Maternal citizenship in the age of transnational adoption ’, Positions , 8 ( 2 ), pp. 389 – 421 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Anderson B. ( 2013 ) Us and Them: The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control , Oxford , Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Appadurai A. (ed.) ( 1996 ) ‘Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy’, in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization , Minneapolis, MN , University of Minnesota Press . Bailey S. ( 2015 ) ‘ Transnational adoption challenges: Through the eyes of Eastern European youth ’, Adoption Quarterly , 18 ( 2 ), pp. 85 – 107 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Balibar E. ( 2015 ) ‘War, racism and nationalism’, interview by C. Petitjean, 15 November, available online at https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1559-etienne-balibar-war-racism-and-nationalism (accessed on 19 July, 2017). Brah A. , Phoenix A. ( 2004 ) ‘ Ain’t I a woman? Revisiting intersectionality ’, Journal of Women’s International Studies , 5 ( 3 ), pp. 75 – 86 . Briggs L. ( 2012 ) Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption , Durham, NC , Duke University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Castles S. ( 1998 ) ‘ Globalization and migration: Some pressing contradictions ’, International Social Science Journal , 50 ( 156 ), pp. 179 – 86 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS CMT (Child Migrants Trust) ( 2016 ) ‘Child migration history’, available online at http://www.childmigrantstrust.com/our-work/child-migration-history/ (accessed on 24 July, 2017). Crath R. ( 2012 ) ‘ Belonging as a mode of interpretive in-between ’, British Journal of Social Work , 42 ( 1 ), pp. 42 – 57 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS De Graeve K. ( 2015 ) ‘ They have our culture’: Negotiating migration in Belgian–Ethiopian transnational adoption ’, Ethnos , 80 ( 1 ), pp. 71 – 90 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Eng D. ( 2003 ) ‘ Transnational adoption and queer diasporas ’, Social Text , 21 ( 30 ), pp. 1 – 37 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Foucault M. ( 2003 ) Society Must Be Defended , London , Penguin Press . Fronek P. , Cuthbert D. ( 2012 ) ‘ The future of inter-country adoption: A paradigm shift for this century ’, International Journal of Social Welfare , 21 ( 2 ), pp. 215 – 24 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Gannon S. ( 2006 ) ‘ The (im)possibilities of writing the self-writing: French poststructural theory and autoethnography ’, Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies , 6 ( 4 ), pp. 474 – 95 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hage G. ( 2016 ) ‘ Etat de siege: A dying domesticating colonialism? ’, American Ethnologist , 43 ( 1 ), pp. 38 – 49 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hall S. , du Gay P. ( 1996 ) Questions of Cultural Identity , London , Sage . HCCH . (1993) Adoption Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, available online at https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/publications1/?dtid=42&cid=69 (accessed on 16 August, 2017). Hindess B. ( 2007 ) ‘ The past is another culture ’, International Political Sociology , 1 ( 4 ), pp. 325 – 38 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hubinette T. ( 2004 ) ‘ Adopted Koreans and the development of identity in the “third space” ’, Adoption & Fostering , 28 ( 1 ), pp. 16 – 24 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kim E. ( 2010 ) Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging , Durham, NC , Duke University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kim H. ( 2015 ) ‘ The biopolitics of transnational adoption in South Korea ’, Body and Society , 21 ( 1 ), pp. 58 – 89 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kim J. ( 2015 ) ‘ The ending is not the ending at all ’, East Asia Cultures Critique , 23 ( 4 ), pp. 807 – 35 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Li T. ( 2015 ) ‘ Asian futures, old and new ’, Asia Colloquia Papers , 4 ( 1 ), pp. 1 – 14 , York Centre for Asian Research, available online at http://ycar.apps01.yorku.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Li_ACP.pdf (accessed on 19 July, 2017). Mains S. P. , Gilmartin M. , Cullen D. , Mohammad R. , Tolia-Kelly D. P. , Raghuram P. , Winders J. ( 2013 ) ‘ Postcolonial migrations ’, Social & Cultural Geography , 14 ( 2 ), pp. 131 – 44 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mignolo W. ( 2002 ). ‘ The geopolitics of knowledge and the colonial difference ’, The South Atlantic Quarterly , 100 ( 1 ), pp. 57 – 96 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pellerin H. , Mullings B. ( 2013 ) ‘ The “diaspora option”, migration and the changing political economy of development ’, Review of International Political Economy , 20 ( 1 ), pp. 89 – 120 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pratt M. L. ( 1994 ) ‘Transculturation and autoethnography’, in Barker F. , Hulme P. , Iversen M. (eds), Colonial Discourse/Postcolonial Theory , Manchester , Manchester University Press . Quartly M. , Swain S. , Cuthbert D. ( 2013 ) The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption , Melbourne , Monash University Publishing . Raghuram P. , Madge C. ( 2006 ) ‘ Towards a method for postcolonial development geography ’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography , 27 ( 3 ), pp. 270 – 88 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sales S. ( 2012 ) Adoption, Family and the Paradox of Origin: A Foucauldian History , Basingstoke , Palgrave McMillan . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Slater D. ( 1998 ) ‘ Post-colonial questions for global times ’, Review of International Political Economy , 5 ( 4 Winter ), pp. 647 – 78 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Taylor C. ( 1992 ) ‘The politics of recognition’, in Gutmann A. (ed.), Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition , Princeton, NJ , Princeton University Press , pp. 25 – 73 . Tuhiwai-Smith L. ( 1999 ) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples , London; New York , Zed Books . Willing I. , Fronek P. ( 2014 ) ‘ Constructing identities and issues of race in transnational adoption: The experiences of adoptive parents ’, British Journal of Social Work , 44 ( 5 ), pp. 1129 – 46 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Yngvesson B. ( 2002 ) ‘ Placing the gift child in transnational adoption ’, Law and Society Review , 36 ( 2 ), pp. 227 – 56 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Yngvesson B. ( 2010 ) Belonging in an Adopted World: Race, Identity, and Transnational Adoption , Chicago, IL , University of Chicago Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

The British Journal of Social WorkOxford University Press

Published: Apr 5, 2018

There are no references for this article.

You’re reading a free preview. Subscribe to read the entire article.


DeepDyve is your
personal research library

It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.

Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.

All for just $49/month

Explore the DeepDyve Library

Search

Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly

Organize

Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.

Access

Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.

Your journals are on DeepDyve

Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.

All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.

See the journals in your area

DeepDyve

Freelancer

DeepDyve

Pro

Price

FREE

$49/month
$360/year

Save searches from
Google Scholar,
PubMed

Create lists to
organize your research

Export lists, citations

Read DeepDyve articles

Abstract access only

Unlimited access to over
18 million full-text articles

Print

20 pages / month

PDF Discount

20% off